January 2011 Archives

SQL Jokes

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An SQL query went into a bar. He walked up to two tables and said, "Hi, can I join you?"

That joke was posted to the Microsoft Excel Developers' List EXCEL-L by Jeff Hutchinson. I wondered what other jokes were out there, and started Googling. And that made me think that database work is so easy that developers must have huge amounts of spare time. Because as soon as I'd typed "sql jok", Google completed it with "sql jokes", "sql joker", "funny sql jokes", "bad sql jokes", "sql joker characters", "sql jokes select", "sql joker sign", "sql joke of the day", and "sql jokes query". Clearly, there are lots of developers diverting themselves by putting jokes onto the Web, and — since there's no supply without demand — lots of other developers diverting themselves by reading them. Oh, and there was also "sql jokes database". A database that tells you, one might say, all the jokes that meta.

XKCD comics had a nice cartoon about the dangers of unescaped input, which I found on AskSQL's Which is the best SQL joke? Don't admit little Bobby Tables to your school. Here are two more, not cartoons this time. By Rob Farley:

Q: What do you call someone who turns into Father Christmas whenever there's a full moon?
A: A were-clause

And from Jeremy H:

An Oracle DBA and a DB2 DBA walk into a bar. The barman asks them what they'd like to drink and a huge debate ensues on how to optimise the query. (Boom Tish)

Their mate the SQL Server DBA rolls in after about 15 minutes only to find them still arguing. After rolling his eyes at them, he walks up to the bar and greets the barman warmly. The barman asks him "Hey, you're a DBA too aren't you? Why aren't you joining in?" The SQL Server DBA grins at the barman and says "Ah... well... the reason I'm late is that this always happens when these clowns go out drinking — I work with SQL Server, so I had the option of optimising the query using a wizard before I got here! So mine's a scotch!"

But in fact, I didn't find many SQL jokes. There were, though, quite a few about programmers, database administrators, and contractors. Here's a contractor joke, posted by Phil Factor:

An IT contractor goes to the gates of Heaven. Very indignantly, he says to St Peter, "Look here, I was only 45 so why did I have to die? It's not fair." St Peter stares back with a puzzled frown, and leafs through the golden book. "Hey, that's odd. According to the hours you've claimed for, you're 120."

Last week, I mentioned John Campbell's SF story The Last Evolution, published in the August 1932 Amazing Stories. This week, I'd like to show you some amazing covers. Scroll down that page to get to them; you can enlarge by clicking.

Some were painted by Frank R. Paul: there's a gallery of these on Frank Wu's FRANK R. PAUL's ARTWORK CHECKLIST PART I: FRONT COVER ART page. In the book 100 Years of Science Fiction Illustration, Anthony Frewin writes that:

Paul had little or no precedent from which to gain inspiration and it is a fitting tribute to his incredible imagination that his vision and stylisation of SF would characterise all similar work for the next 40 years. Paul, when illustrating a story, created those monstrous galactic cities, alien landscapes, and mechanical Behemoths entirely himself — the descriptions contained in the stories were never ever much more specific than, for example, something like, 'shimmering towers rising into the clouds from a crystal-like terrain'.

Frewin notes that Paul's aliens tend not to be frightening: "their appearance is friendly and domesticated almost". That's certainly true of the dinosaurs menacing the submarine on the February 1927 cover. Their goofy grins remind me of Sid's Snake from Whizzer and Chips. The betentacled secretaries that Paul drew for an episode of Baron Munchausen's New Scientific Adventures in a 1928 Amazing Stories frighten me more.

But, to quote Frewin again:

To say that all of what follows in the present book is a testimony to Paul's unique creativity would not be hyperbole. No other individual enlarged so greatly the vocabulary of twentieth century popular art in its attempts at grasping the future...


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I have several art manuals by L.A. Doust, who wrote "Simple Sketching in Line", and I like them very much. The pencil drawings in his "A Manual on Sketching from Life" are beautiful: look at the sitting man in Plate 16, and the lady with the cloche hat in Plate 15. The books date from the 1930s, and I suppose his style is of that time: it's simple and meticulous, and if I could draw like that, I'd be Picasso.

I ordered "Simple Sketching in Line" from Amazon. But since I never got it, I've decided to blog my frustration with Amazon's dreadful customer service. I ordered on December 26th, from an Amazon third-party seller named "pogobook". When I submitted the order, Amazon told me pogobook would probably send it on the 29th. On January 3rd, Amazon sent me an email saying it hadn't yet been sent, giving me pogobook's address, and telling me to email them directly. I did. I emailed pogobook several times over the next week, both directly and via Amazon's email form. I never got a reply. Nor did I get the book, whose latest delivery date Amazon said was the 14th. That's last Friday.

Now, pogobook's email address looks OK, doesn't it? It's abumpyride@hotmail.co.uk, according to Amazon. And a bumpy ride is exactly what I got from Amazon's customer service. Which is odd, because at the end of every email, they claim to be the most customer-centric company on Earth. They haven't got me my book: but they are the most customer-centric company on Earth. That's an Earth in some alternate universe I'm not aware of. It's the one where Hitler won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Why do I say that? Because when I mailed Amazon to say I was worried that pogobook wasn't answering my emails, they said they "had no process" for contacting pogobook. They also told me they wouldn't give me pogobook's phone number. The "no process" excuse, of course, is rubbish. How do Amazon ever negotiate partnership with a seller in the first place, if they have "no process" for contacting them? Thank you Amazon employee Ranjith K. for this bit of cover-up jargon.

Other employees also refuse to contact pogobook on my behalf. They all tell me "no process". How hard would it be for them to pick up a phone and ring pogobook? But they won't.

Admittedly, one person did say last Thursday that she'd ask the Amazon Seller Performance Team to contact pogobook. I've heard nothing. She also gave me the email address for the Seller Performance Team so that I could talk to them directly. It's sellers-performance-transfer@amazon.co.uk, and when I emailed it, the mail bounced. Thank you, Amazon employee Jacqueline OG, both for a dud email address, and for not being arsed to ring pogobook yourself.

I'm frustrated and annoyed at Amazon's disinterest in their customers. I've wasted time waiting for a book that never arrived. Because I can't get answers from pogobook, I've no idea whether they will send it. I could order a copy elsewhere, but I might then end up with two. Also, the book has vanished from Amazon's site, being "unavailable". Well, if pogobook had it on the 26th, and they haven't sent it to me, where is it?

Moreover, I was staying with a relative, and had the book sent to her address. I've now returned home, but I have no way to tell pogobook to change the address on my order.

But apart from that, I started emailing pogobook on the 3rd; and as I said, they never replied. And a seller who won't answer emails is probably not in their shop despatching orders. So non-replies are suspect, and Amazon should investigate them pronto. But Amazon refused to do so. There also seems to be nowhere on the site to leave feedback about bad sellers. Perhaps it's just me, but every time I tried, I found the "feedback" links and menu options disabled. Don't Amazon want customers to know when a seller goes bad? From what I've experienced, I think they don't care.

A few weeks ago, I found an online copy of my favourite Asimov, one I think of as the ultimate computer story. Ken Kahn mailed me to point out an earlier ultimate-computer story: John Campbell's The Last Evolution, published in Amazing Stories for August 1932. and available now from Project Gutenberg.

I feel a wistfulness about its closing paragraphs, similar to that in two other Campbell stories, Twilight and Night. These also feature wonderful computers. Night tells of an anti-gravity test flight which goes awry, flinging its test pilot into a future long after mankind has died out. But Man's machines survive, and the pilot visits them in their neon-lit city on Neptune. Neon-lit; and amongst the cold light, are there drifts of neon on the ground? The story's wistful mood arises partly because despite their great intelligence, these machines lack (if I remember correctly) one essential attribute — I shan't reveal what in case I spoil the story.

Night doesn't seem to exist online, but I did find a review on Jason Ellis's Dynamic Subspace site. As for Twilight, there's supposedly a copy at http://www.naderlibrary.com/eiseley.twilight.johnstuartcampbell.htm, but the server is down today: try Google's cache. I first read both stories in Tandem's collection The Thing from Outer Space, and suspected then that they came from the same future history. In Twilight, Man still lives. So do his machines. But so far into the future is it, that more time has elapsed since their creation than between me and a flint axe. The stars have moved; dogs have evolved, become intelligent, died out. And in the same way that science-spurning teenagers prod their pink iPods and their Facebook phones:

all those people knew was that to do a certain thing to a certain lever produced certain results. Just as men in the Middle Ages knew that to take a certain material, wood, and place it in contact with other pieces of wood heated red, would cause the wood to disappear, and become heat. They did not understand that wood was being oxidized with the release of the heat of formation of carbon dioxide and water. So those people did not understand the things that fed and clothed and carried them.

Twilight was declared by the Science Fiction Writers of America to be one of the best science fiction short stories of all time.

In his posting The Command Line Phone, Al Williams expresses perplexity at the Android tablet's graphical user interface. One thing I've never liked about GUIs is how un-self-explanatory the icons are.

I'm looking at the Google toolbar on my browser above the Dobbs site. To the right of the Google search window is an icon made of two blue splodges, a yellow splodge, a big green splodge, and a little red splodge on top of the big green splodge. If I take off my glasses, the red and green become the side view of a Care Bear, or a goblin in his hat. With my glasses on, the icon is Plasticine pieces squished together by a toddler who has yet to pass Piaget Developmental Stage Zero. Perhaps, I guess, the different colours mimic the colours of sky, sea, desert, forest and wildflower meadow, reminding us that Google wants to own the Earth.

To the right of the Google Search Goblin is something not entirely unlike the Chinese character for "small", 小: a vertical bar with a pointy thing on each side. It signifies the shaking of my head from left to right and back, as I fail to comprehend the icons. Then there's a red, yellow and blue thing with shading under. It could be a folded flannel, a Battenburg cake with a blue Co-op "price-reduced" sticker, a pear, cherry and blueberry Swiss roll, or an open wallet from which I can pull money to go and buy a better pair of glasses. Not that that would help. Though I have now remembered a joke:

Q: How do you make a Swiss roll?
A: Push him down the hill.

Next, I see a grey temple. Its columns aren't rendered in enough detail to tell me which of the Five Orders they are, but from their squatness, I'd guess Doric. The temple is followed by a blue cross; a red envelope with a sticker over the flap; and a green square with wavy bits that represent a camera shutter. Oh, OK, must be a Webcam control.

And finally, there are a speech balloon with a pencil over; a blue star; a short ribbon which has partially filled with green; a green tick with ABC above; a right-pointing chevron; a spanner; and a green rubber ball like the one I used to bounce against the walls at school. That's a lot of green. My memories of school IQ tests tell me I should group the blue star and the blue cross together, thereby proving that I've passed Piaget Developmental Stage Three, whereafter I have the ability to think abstractly and to make rational judgements about concrete or observable phenomena. I am still trying to make a rational judgement about the blue star. It's white inside, reminding me of the white gouache I used to depict Rudolph's lit-up nose in my latest cartoon, but perhaps that's not relevant. Would it mean something different if it were indigo, or lemon? Perhaps "star" is a pun on celebrity, and this is a Google tool that rummages the Web for gossip about Amy Winehouse and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

The envelope must be for email; the fact that it's red obviously means it's unsafe, to use only if you don't mind unleashing an email virus. You could send an email asking for a better artist to design the icons. The tick and ABC could be for checking spelling, though I do not often spell-check other people's Web pages. The spanner is to hit the computer with. And in the temple, I pray for enlightenment.


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Santa and reindeer against moon, overlooking the Sphinx and two 
pyramids. Nearest reindeer is saying: Er, Santa? Was it wise to let the
elves program the sat nav?

I have Christmas cards of this cartoon for sale. Please contact popx@j-paine.org if you'd like to order some.

On my way from Oxford to Wendover to visit relatives for Christmas, I stopped at the Oxfam bookshop in Aylesbury. This always has an excellent SF section, crammed with books from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I reacquainted myself with John Wyndham, and admired the way he writes as humorously and knowingly about — say — the beauty business (which he does in Trouble with Lichen and Oh, Where, Now is Peggy MacRafferty?) as he does about intangible tourists from great-granddaughter's time, triffids, and Tube trains to Hell. Admittedly, the last of these comes easily when you've done rush hour on the Northern Line.

I also found, though not in the SF section, One Minute Please, a book of essays by American humorist Robert Benchley. He is spot on about Christmas. In his essay A Good Old-Fashioned Christmas, he writes anent a visit to one's wife's folks in East Russet, Vermont:

Of course, there are the presents to be distributed, but that takes on much the same aspect as the same ceremony in the new-fashioned Christmas, except that in the really old-fashioned Christmas the presents weren't so tricky. Children got mostly mittens and shoes, with a sled thrown in sometimes for dissipation. Where a boy to-day is bored by three o'clock in the afternoon with his electric grain elevator and miniature pond with real perch in it, the old-fashioned boy was lucky if he got a copy of "Naval Battles of the War of 1812" and an orange. Now this feature is often brought up in praise of the old way of doing things. "I tell you," says Uncle Gyp, "the children in my time never got such presents as you get to-day." And he seems proud of the fact, as if there were some virtue accruing to him for it. If the children of to-day can get electric grain elevators and tin automobiles for Christmas, why aren't they that much better off than their grandfathers who got only wristlets? Learning the value of money, which seems to be the only argument of the stand-patters, doesn't hold very much water as a Christmas slogan. The value of money can be learned in just about five minutes when the time comes, but Christmas is not the season.
The book was published in 1945: I wonder what Benchley would have written about the iPads, iPods, and iPhones that Santa was toting this Christmas.

The inside front cover of the Benchley book bears a splendid stamp commemorating the Canadian Y.M.C.A. Overseas, the Canadian Knights of Columbus War Services, the Salvation Army Canadian War Services, the Canadian Legion War Services, and the Auxiliary Services:
An inner circle with 'Auxiliary Services' within, surrounded by
four quadrants of an annulus, each containing one of the other titles.

And written in pencil, upside down, is a table of the integers 1 to 25 against A's, B's, and dashes. Thus:


And that's my puzzle, to which I don't know the answer. I thought first of prime numbers, but I can't see how they'd fit. Is this a mathematical pattern at all? Is it an antique dealer's secret price code? Given the book's owners, is it code of a more serious kind? Is it sharps and flats? There is some pattern around the numbers 4 to 18; and are the A's at 2 and 3 counterparts of the pairs of dashes?

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